One point that stands out clearly in the current exchange between Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and Dr Maikanti Baru, the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, is the serious issue of team work and cohesiveness in the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
For me, the issue is not who is right and who is wrong, though that is of fundamental significance. But, and this raises concern for the efficiency of bureaucracy, is the right hand aware of what the left hand is doing in this government? Are they on the same page with a common goal sharing the same Buhari vision?
If the answer is no, then there is a clear possibility of a dysfunctional system that can lead, invariably, to indecisiveness in governance because of the consequential lethargy in the decision making process. And this has a negative effect on productivity. The Ibe Kachikwu letter to the president may not conclusively prove any wrong doing but it bears the hallmark of a dysfunctional bureaucracy. Dr. Kachikwu is the minister of state for Petroleum Resources and President Buhari doubles as the substantive minister. In both capacities, Buhari is the boss and it is on his desk that the buck stops.
Ordinarily, Buhari and Kachikwu should be seen as two soul mates on the country’s journey to economic prosperity considering that the two of them preside over the ministry that lays the golden eggs. On a day to day basis, therefore, the two of them should be interested in the affairs of the ministry and its flagship, the NNPC and be seen to be comparing notes regularly.
But if Kachikwu had to resort to letter writing to complain to his boss and the letter had to take nearly five weeks, in the tortoise fashion of the old postal system, to get from his office to the senior minister’s office in the villa, then there is something to worry about. Something as disturbing as the famous communication between the Director General of DSS and the Senate on Ibrahim Magu, the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Mr President had twice sent Magu’s name to the Senate for confirmation as chairman but the Senate, based on the report it received from the DSS, twice turned down the president’s request. The question at the time, and which remains unanswered even today, is: did the DSS give Mr President security clearance on Magu to enable him to send his name to the Senate? Was the DSS operating without any due regard to the president’s interest? We may never know.
Back to the matter of the moment. Dr Kachikwu had raised issues of procedure in his letter to the president and accused the NNPC boss of by-passing his office and the board in the award of contracts to the tune of $25 billion. He complained that in “many cases of things that happen in NNPC these days, I learn of transactions only through the media.” And in case his big boss had forgotten, the Junior Minister told the Senior Minister that “this bravado management style runs contrary to the cleansing operations you engaged me to carry out at the inception of your administration. This is also not in consonance with your own renowned standards of integrity.”
The two gladiators were immediately summoned to the villa, apparently to state their cases. On Monday, the NNPC boss came out with a line by line rebuttal of the Kachikwu allegations. Contrary to the minister’s position that the ” legal and procedural requirement is that all contracts above $20 million would need to be reviewed and approved by the board of the NNPC,” Dr Baru said categorically that ” the NNPC board has no role, I repeat, has no role as far as the contracting process is concerned.”
And the NNPC spokesman had to call the NNPC Act and its handbook plus the Public Procurement Act as witnesses to the fact that “all that was needed to award a contract was the tender’s board approval or the President in his executive capacity or as Minister of Petroleum.”
I must commend the decency NNPC displayed by not dismissing the minister of state or the NNPC board as an interloper in this business. But having done that, I beg to pose this question, though not to anybody in particular. What exactly is the role of the NNPC board? And for that matter, what do these eminent citizens do as NNPC board members? The board cannot award contract. It cannot recruit staff. It cannot promote or demote and employ and deploy. What can it do? What is the attraction in it for those who fall over one another to be appointed as directors of the NNPC? Perhaps to while away the time, the members request for a meeting.
I can imagine the only thing the board members do when they go for board meeting, is take tea and biscuits and slap one another on the back in the manner of hail fellow, long time! And they go back home with their seating allowance. Is that all there is to it being a member of the board of NNPC?
And what is the job specification of the minister of state, Ibe Kachukwu, this brilliant technocrat who was recruited by President Buhari in 2015 as group managing director of NNPC and who was promoted(?) to his current exalted position of minister of state a few months later when the cabinet of eminent citizens was grafted together? In his present portfolio, not quite an enviable one, sandwiched as it is between two powerful panjandrums – the big boss of the NNPC on one hand and the President of Africa’s biggest country on the other, he has to take to letter writing to remind us that he is still very much around apparently suffering from executive joblessness.
But it is not funny. And the president who takes responsibility for this apparent tardiness that is threatening to afflict the smooth running of the presidency must take back his government. He it was whom Nigerians voted for when they were fed up with the cluelessness of Goodluck Jonathan, one time political minnow who, riding on his good luck, became president by default in 2010. They voted Buhari into office principally for his unsoiled integrity and his uncompromising principle for probity and accountability. Buhari has come a long way and it will be tragic if he has to sacrifice this hard earned reputation on the altar of primordial tendencies. He is the only one who will be called to account for his stewardship in 2019, not his aides, not his ministers and not members of his kitchen cabinet.
Should Buhari not move, like the general that he was, and become more decisive during the remaining months and days of his first term so that the grass does not grow under his feet? His presidency cannot afford to lumber from one scandal to another.
The David Lawal Babachir episode has not been disposed off. Now the NNPC’s Baru and the Ibe Kachikwu imbroglio is threatening to assume a dimension that would fall along some sensitive fault lines. Add to this the unquenchable fire of an activist First Lady, Aisha Buhari, who is doing the nation a great deal of service by helping the husband not only to identify the hyenas and the jackals in the villa but who has also taken on the role of a pathfinder and a whistle blower. She is now helping the husband to beam the searchlight into the rooms and the cupboards in the presidency that may contain some cobwebs of graft and shady deals.
I have had occasion in this newspaper to caution that those privileged to be close to the president and who must work for his success in the battle against corruption must, like Caesar’ wife, be seen to be scrupulously above board. Not once in a while but all the time.